Tucked away in the ungodly congestion of New York City's Times Square, The Church of Scientology sits shrouded in mystery on an unassuming corner amidst parking lots, Broadway-themed restaurants, and pizzerias. Everything I'd ever heard about the fantastical religion had come from biased Internet sources, gossip magazines, Tom Cruise, and that scathing episode of South Park. After years of intrigue, I dared to venture into their headquarters and get the story firsthand. This is what happened when I went undercover into the Church of Scientology.
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I had called a week earlier and scheduled a tour with a woman who promptly asked how I'd heard about the church. I told her that I had seen ads on TV and became interested after realizing I had no direction in my life. Her warm voice coaxed me into a full two-hour tour, complete with a personality analysis.
After a ten minute rain-soaked walk from the subway, I entered the church. One could easily confuse the lobby with a museum book store. Rows and rows of Dianetic — the provisional Scientology bible — written by L. Ron Hubbard, lined each and every wall of the church, translated into every language imaginable.
The thing about every person working at the Church of Scientology is that they're all connected by a distinctly warm — albeit socially awkward — personality. They took care of me as if I were a stray dog caught in a bear trap. They're friendly and accommodating... but they all seemed distracted — as if they were a million miles away.
I met a nice woman who, after exiting out of a Simpsons iPhone game, escorted me down to a musty basement where I would be administered a personality analysis. I sat down at a small table that reminded me of a middle school library and was given an intimidating packet with over 200 questions that addressed every aspect of my life.
"Do you often feel depressed?" "Do you often make tactless blunders?" "Do you greet people effusively?" "Is your facial expression varied rather than set?" "Are you in favor of color bar and class distinction?"
These questions, presented randomly without rhyme or reason, prompted me to unexpectedly take the test seriously. I truly pondered every query asked and tried to think of myself from another point of view. Did I greet people effusively? Was I often depressed? After an hour of filling in hundreds of little round circles, I trudged back up the stairs and gave my packet to the nice woman still entranced by her Simpsons game. "How was it?" "Just fine." I said. "How long until you figure it out?" "A few minutes. You can watch our introductory video in the meantime."
Scenes of intense violence, death, and disease filled the screen in a ten minute long informational video meant to convey a well-rounded explanation of the idea behind Scientology. They compared the study of the religion to eating a bad egg. Every bad experience you've had in the past directly affects how you live your current life.
So if you once ate a bad egg and it made you throw up, every egg you'd see from then on would make you nauseous. Scientology treats rotten eggs on a grander scale. If you were traumatized by gunfire during a war, for instance, loud noises would now cause PTSD — but scientology isolates these experiences and treats them. It was a good analogy, but left me with questions. After you isolate the experience... then what? How do you treat that? These questions would remain unanswered.
I was taken into a room and introduced to a man named Ray. He'd been a "master" with the church for almost half a decade and sat across from me in a black turtleneck and a black sports jacket adorned with a golden handkerchief. His icy blue eyes stared right through me as he pulled out my test results. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you," he said, circling the word depressed on my analysis. "Oh?" "You're depressed, Jeremy. You see this dip in the graph right here?" Ray pointed to a line that ran flush with the bottom of the paper. "I do." "You're very, very depressed. This line indicates that you're irresponsible, too. Do you think you are?" "I, uh... I suppose I might be?" Ray continued to look at me as he circled the word irresponsible.
"Scientology can help that." "You're distracted, too. What do you think about these days?" "Well," I said, "I had a pretty detrimental death in my family." "Uh huh." Ray's eyes glazed over. "Scientology can help that, too." "That's good," I said. Ray asked me about my job. "I'm in marketing." "No kidding! You know who else was in marketing? L. Ron Hubbard." "Really!" I said, genuinely surprised. "He was. He invented a completely new method of marketing that we still use today." "How's it different than typical marketing?" I asked. "What's the point of marketing?" "To, uh... make money?" Ray smiled and nodded. "Exactly. Ron's method takes from the world around us and bypasses every methodology you've ever known." "Oh." I said. Ray went back to my results. "Your IQ, however, is off the charts. Literally."
And that's where Ray lost me. Among all the sensationalism, the unanswered questions, the over-saturation in the press, the skepticism, and John Travolta, I was lost. Ray told me my IQ was off the charts — the charts L. Ron Hubbard designed in 1978. He told me how most people aren't smart enough to actively accept Scientology.
I was the perfect candidate: depressed, distracted, wayward. All I needed to achieve spiritual clarity was a $30 copy of Dianetics, a $50 deposit to begin classes, and a payment plan for the next 60 years of my life."Hi there, Mr. Genius! I heard about your test results!" I passed the girl at the front desk, still engrossed in her iPhone game, on my way out. Her kind smile filled me with the hope that one day she'd do a legit, thorough Google search on this religion and truly figure out if she wanted her life to be like this, or if they just told her that this was what life had to be like. "So, we'll see you on Friday?"
"Absolutely," I said.
"Looking forward to it. Have a great trip home!" She placed her hand in mine and lightly squeezed. A man, wearing a black leather tie, opened the door for me and bid me adieu.
After his experience with the church, Jeremy Glass went home and promptly took a bubble bath.